Balfour Women's General Assembly Address (Full transcript)
Good evening, ladies!
What a pleasure it is to be amongst you on the eve of Israel’s 67th birthday. We have so many reasons to celebrate the Jewish State and the Jewish people on this milestone.Israel, our shared homeland and birthright, in less than a century has gone from being a tiny, destitute desert land stuck in the middle of a rough neighborhood, to a thriving economy at the helm of global markets… and still going.Israel has the highest number of university degrees per capita worldwide. It also has the most scientists and technicians in the world per capita. Israel ranks third in terms of countries with the highest rate of entrepreneurship and it proudly holds 12 Nobel Prizes. Every day it seems another record is being broken, another innovation is being introduced, and another life-saving technology is being discovered by the Start-up nation- making our world a better place.You probably already knew all of that, right… Because we have a tendency to kvell about Israel, like we do about our own children. We are just so proud.But did you know of its abundant academic degrees, over half are earned by women? Did you know that it has the highest rate of entrepreneurship amongst women worldwide? Did you know that of its 12 Noble Prize laureates, one is a woman?It seems that what we don’t talk about often enough, what we inadvertently ignore, are the countless trailblazing Israeli women who are helping make all this possible.Can anybody name a woman who falls into this category?Naturally, when we think of notable Israeli women we think of the former Prime Minister, Golda Meir. And how can we not? She was the first and only female prime minister of Israel. It was her premiership that ranked Israel as the third country in the world to be led by a woman, a remarkable feat, especially in her era.What about her successors? I’m talking about contemporary women who have propelled Israel into the global spotlight, those who have bestowed upon us honors in the last decade.For instance, Ada Yonath, who in 2009, received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her studies on the structure and function of the ribosome, making her by the way, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize for chemistry in 45 years! Or Tal Rabin (from IBM), Yoelle Maarek (from Yahoo) and Tamar Bercovici (from Box), three Israeli women who earned spots on Business Insider’s top 20 list of most powerful female engineers in 2014.How about Galia Maor, president and CEO of Bank Leumi; and Ofra Strauss, chairwoman of the most delicious Strauss Group, both of whom land on the lists of most powerful women worldwide, in prestigious publications like Forbes and Fortune Magazine, year after year.And we can’t forget the over 100, 000 Israeli women who are working in the country’s high tech sector at all levels and maintaining its reputation as the Start-up Nation; not to mention at the same time, keeping the male to female ratio in high tech lower than even in Silicon Valley! I would be remiss to talk about the success of Israeli women in unorthodox positions, and neglect athletics. Did you know that the first Olympic medal awarded to Israel was earned by a woman? Yael Arad won the silver medal in judo at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.And did you know that the first Israeli ever to qualify for the PGA (Professional golfer’s association) tour was a woman? Laetitia Beck, at 22 years old. was among 20 players who earned membership through category 12 on the LPGA Tour priority list, meaning she will be a full-time player on tour in 2015.Ladies, I could spend all night rattling off names and statistics of women who have contributed to Israel’s success story and led this small country to international recognition and glory, but I won’t because, fortunate for all of us, there are far too many.You see, as much as I beam with pride to see fellow women, our sisters strive, thrive and succeed, it is really the judicial framework and the social support weaved into the moral tapestry of Israeli society that make me proud.Since the establishment of the State in 1948, women in Israel have been officially guaranteed gender equality, verbatim in the declaration of independence, the very text on which the country was built. Legislative equality was later enshrined in the 1951 Women’s Equal Rights Law and dispensed in a series of laws dealing with everything from equal pay to sexual harassment and violence against women, many of them promoted through the Committee for the Advancement of Women in the Knesset. The legal guarantee of rights and freedoms has allowed women to be fully integrated in Israeli society and play a key role in politics, business, scientific research, art and culture; and as I hope I have demonstrated tonight, Israel and the world has reaped the benefits.Unfortunately, our neighbors in the Middle Eastern region have yet to fully embrace these values and ideals. Closing the gender gap between men and women has proven to be effective in the advancement of society as a whole in Israel; and perhaps a promising solution for social advancement in neighboring countries will be obtained by way of this avenue. As Israel enters its 67th year of independence, and at the same time forms its 34th government, a record number of democratically-elected women, from both the right and the left, will sit in the Knesset; and a record number of women will sit behind executive desks and at board room tables throughout Israel, hopefully leading us into a time of peace and prosperity.